Elderly Abuse Awareness: Confronting One of America’s Most Invisible Crimes

Elderly abuse is often a topic that gets pushed under the rug for many different reasons. Each year, hundreds of thousands of senior citizens across the country fall victim to abuse forms such as physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.

In 1996, researchers estimated that between 820,000 and 1,860,000 elders were abused. Since many cases of elder abuse are often hidden by family members, the exact amount of elders suffering through these forms of abuse goes elderabuseextremely underreported. It’s important to raise awareness to this topic in our elder community and be educated on how to recognize the signs and know which resources to reach out to when reporting suspicions of abuse. While domestic violence, sexual and emotional abuse are issues that are present, financial exploitation is a category that is often overlooked. Financial exploitation takes place when a person misuses or takes the assets of a vulnerable adult for his/her own personal benefit. This often occurs without the knowledge or consent of said vulnerable adult.

Allow me to give you a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say that you are a caregiver to your elderly mother. After a long life of serving others, raising families, and retiring from a career, your mother has trusted you to carry on the duties and responsibilities that she no longer can complete on her own. She relies on you for daily meals and help with house cleaning. She has made you, her oldest daughter her power of attorney and has entrusted to you her bank accounts, checkbooks, credit lines, tax information, etc. A large portion of your every day life is now devoted to making sure your mother is fed 3 meals a day, transported to doctors appointments, taking daily medication, balancing her checkbook, the list goes on…

Part of you may feel that you have sacrificed your own life and well-being to care for this person which could lead to heightened stress or even resentment. Some people under such conditions may resort to physical and emotional abuse towards the person that is receiving the care. But you don’t have it in you to do such a thing. Your mother doesn’t deserve to be put down or pushed around. After all, she raised you and gave you nothing but love and guidance throughout many milestones of your life. You do however feel that you deserve a break. A getaway. A vacation. You consider a weekend beach trip, and your sister agrees to sub in as the caretaker for a few days. You begin looking into lodging arrangements and you come to the bitter realization that due to your responsibilities as a caretaker, that you don’t have the means to finance your trip. So you book it on your mother’s credit card. You justify this by reminding yourself of all that you do to help her and make sure that she is cared for. However, what you may not understand is that this is still abuse.

Financial exploitation on all levels is considered abusive behavior. No matter how you choose to justify your actions, you used another person’s financial means to your own benefit without their consent. Although this scenario may be mild compared to many other forms of exploitation such as insurance fraud, unauthorized real estate sales, or forgeries – by doing this, you are taking advantage of a person who trusted you.

June 15, 2016 is Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It is important for our organization to raise awareness and help educate those in our community on various topics such as this one that affect the lives of our senior citizens. Recognizing the signs of elder abuse cases is the first step to helping the victims out of the situation the are in. Common signs of physical, emotional, sexual abuse, and neglect include:

-Bruises, abrasions, pressure marks, or broken bones
-Sudden withdrawal/disinterest in activities
-Sudden change in alertness
-Unusual depression or feeling of low self-worth
-Bruises around the breasts or genital area
-Sudden changes or decisions in financial situations
-Bedsores, rapid weight loss, or poor hygiene
-Verbal belittling or threats pertaining to control from spouses
-Strained relationships and/or frequent arguments between caregivers and care receivers
-If you or a loved one is a victim of elder abuse, there are people you can contact who will help. To report elder abuse, you can contact the Adult Protective Services (APS) agency in the resident state of the elder. To learn more about elder abuse, how to spot and report it, and other resources, visit the Administration of Aging

Humans of all ages deserve for their rights to be honored and protected. Please help us raise awareness in order to confront this invisible crime.